CLIENT MAN Truck & Bus
No room for greenwashing
fors.earth supports MAN Truck & Bus in creating a thesaurus on the subject of decarbonization
Raising awareness of dangerous – because deceptive – terms in sustainability communication
In the course of redefining the CR and climate strategy, MAN Truck & Bus wanted to ensure that all of the technical terms relating to climate and sustainability were used correctly.
A thesaurus was therefore to be created for all MAN communicators – particularly in the areas of CO2 savings and sustainability – which was then discussed with MAN communicators and editors and made available to them.
The two central questions were:
1. Which terms and formulations of the thesaurus stand up to a critical stakeholder analysis?
2. Which terms and formulations of the thesaurus do not stand up to a critical stakeholder analysis? Why don't they, and what are suitable alternative terms and phrases?
It had to be considered that there are certainly conflicts of interest between a communication that catches the eye and is remembered and a completely correct statement. This was discussed in workshops.
Semantic and reception analysis of the terms with subsequent examination and development of alternative formulations
The creation of a thesaurus – for the clusters of sustainability, CO2 neutrality, 1.5 degrees and net zero – followed a 4-stage process.
First, the current use of the term or phrase in societal discourse was considered. It is important to emphasize that this was deliberately not a scientific but a social discourse. Why was and is this important? An average consumer does not have the necessary expertise to clearly distinguish between statements such as "100 % climate-neutral production", "we act climate-neutral" or "climate-neutral product". In the opinion of the Competition Center, which has recently been increasingly taking action against such statements, such vague statements give the impression that climate neutrality is 100 % achieved through emission-avoiding or emission-reducing measures that affect the advertising company itself and its products (own production processes, logistics, sales). In the cases complained about by the central competition office, however, the alleged "climate neutrality" merely represents a calculated result that was achieved through the purchase of CO₂ offset certificates, which were used to support measures in developing and emerging countries without any connection to the advertising company or its products (e. g. planting trees in Uruguay or clean cooking stoves in Ghana). The Competition Center considers such advertising measures to be misleading, since the measures have nothing to do with the advertising company and its products, although this is suggested and the purchase of certificates is concealed in the advertising.
“Climate neutrality has become a central theme in advertising. With such information, many market participants assume that the company has succeeded in completely avoiding negative effects on the climate due to its own significant avoidance and reduction of emissions and that the product or production itself is not harmful to the climate. In fact, in the cases complained about, the greenhouse gas emissions were offset by purchasing CO₂ certificates. Even if the offsetting of the remaining emissions is to be welcomed until the processes for avoiding emissions have been completely changed, this must be clearly pointed out. Only then can the customer make an informed decision.”
Tudor Vlah, Environmental Advertising Officer at the Competition Center
In the second step, the problem of using the term or the formulation was examined.
An alternative term or alternative formulation was then developed, which finally came into play in an example sentence.
Multiplier effect through workshops
The thesaurus helps MAN Truck & Bus to avoid any impression of green washing and to position the company as a successful example in the field of decarbonization communication.
The awareness-raising workshops with journalists also have a multiplier effect, since the use of language by the reporting discourse shapers was trained in this way.
"When I consider how broad the term 'carbon neutral' or 'sustainable' is in the context of a product or company, and all the details that need to be considered, I would like a more meaningful formulation that represents the actual performance of the product or company. The challenge is to find statements that are correct and have a good recognition value. It's not easy, especially since we've gotten so used to the buzzwords that a statement like "We'll be x % less carbon by year xxxx compared to year yyyy" feels ‘lame’. But the more we advance with these examples, the more likely this type of communication will be in demand and demanded.”
Dr. Heike Sarstedt, Head of HSE (Health, Safety, Environment and Energy Management) at MAN Truck & Bus
"As a graduate advertiser, I know that advertising has always glossed over things. But the dimension of euphemism that presents itself in the context of "sustainability" is bottomlessly dangerous. Once you understand how wrong – because they are euphemistically – climate terms like “climate neutral” actually are, then you simply can no longer use them. You then see them somewhere and wonder whether the authors lack a basic feeling for language and science.”
Alexandra Namyslowski, expert for sustainability communication at fors.earth
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